The singer-songwriter recalls recording with Joni Mitchell and The Beatles
That’s Why I’m Here
After intense rehab and failed sessions in Montserrat, Taylor is reborn with a synth-heavy hit record.
I had finally gotten sufficiently fed up with the life I had been leading, of substance abuse and addiction. I had gone through a detox, and I wasn’t going to feel capable of working for another six months. But after a month and a half I had to go to Montserrat to record in Air Studios, George Martin’s studio. It was a beautiful break, we went there with a great band and intended to cut basic tracks. But it was basically a washout for me. I wasn’t ready, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t focus, I was miserable, I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. Six months later, I switched my addiction from heroin to rigorous physical exercise, every day, two or three sessions a day. That’s how I got through it, that’s how I got my body and my nervous system back. And it wasn’t until a year later that we got down to work on That’s Why I’m Here. The album is interesting, because it’s my first exposure to synthesisers. It sounds synthesiser-heavy to me if I hear it now, but it’s got some great tunes on it – “Something From Far Away” is really great. “Only A Dream In Rio” really describes what had happened to me over the making of the album. It was a misfire followed by a new direction.
Taylor’s 14th album, once again recorded at home, is a sombre and brooding examination of heartbreak and recovery.
This album was produced by Frank Filipetti, who is an engineer and producer, and that’s really what I like to do best these days, to work with someone who comes in from a knowledge of the actual recording process and how it sounds down on tape. Frank had the confidence and the sort of pioneering spirit, if you will, to basically make a major album for a major label, Sony, using this newly emerging home studio stuff – you could buy the whole setup that we used for about $20,000. Everything that we used in studios, like a Neve board and tape recorder, would cost a million dollars to own. It was really a breakthrough album in that way, and Filipetti got a Grammy Award for it, and he should have. We went up to Martha’s Vineyard to record, and installed ourselves in a summer house which belonged to a family that I knew and we tracked right there, in about two weeks. We were very focused, we were very relaxed, we were in our own context and Frank was making it happen. Some of my favourite songs are on here. I really like this album. “Yellow And Rose” is a recovery song, a song about people sent to Australia to be punished finding out that they are actually reborn.
Hear Music, 2008
Celebrating his crack touring band, Taylor lays down versions of songs by Jimmy Webb, Leonard Cohen and Buddy Holly.
I had just built this studio at my home in Massachusetts. It’s really just a barn, a big, cheap structure, as much cubic footage as you can get for the buck. I built it in order to rehearse, but it turned out to be such a lovely sounding space, it’s got plywood and industrial wooden floors, but for some reason the sound and shape of it is perfect. I had this band that I had been touring with, Larry Goldings on piano, Steve Gadd on drums, who I had worked with in the ’70s way back when in Atlantic Studios in New York. So I had this wonderful band, with Lou Marini, Jr on saxophone and Walt Fowler on trumpet writing the arrangements. I had been touring this band and it sounded so great, I really wanted an excuse to basically to get it together and to just run this band around the course. There was this big batch of songs that I had always loved, and that I worked up on the guitar. Then we recorded them all live, 13 players at the same time. I came back in and worked on the vocals, but that’s the only overdubbing we did. It was just wonderful fun. There was no pressure because I really wasn’t under the gun to write and finish songs, we were just doing stuff we knew we loved. Anything from “Oh What A Beautiful Mornin’” to “Wichita Lineman” or “Suzanne”, I just tried songs that I’ve always loved.
Before This World
Taylor’s latest, years in the making, is a sophisticated return, crafted during long stays in the wilderness.
I took 2013 off to write, but I really didn’t get serious about it. Things kept distracting me, until I finally decided to really hide away for a week at a time. And that’s when these songs started coming through. I wrote in Montana at a friend’s cabin, with 15 feet of snow outside. I wrote in Newport, Rhode Island – in the summertime it’s a sort of boating mecca, but in winter it’s abandoned, and I would walk the streets and roam my boat around the harbour and ride my bicycle, and just work on the lyrics over and over again. [Taylor’s wife] Kim would listen to me play this thing on piano over and over for years. It turned it into this really nice song called “You And I Again”. I have often said that I keep coming back to familiar themes, writing the same songs again from different angles. This is like that. “Far Afghanistan” is about a soldier preparing to fight, which is something I basically can’t stop thinking about, how these guys prepare themselves to do this impossible challenge of going to kill or be killed. Before This World is titled after the song on the album, but it’s also a double entendre in a sense. The period of time when I became who I am, say, between the ages of 15 and 22, was before this world, it was a prior world, and I am of a time before this world. The other sense in the title is that when you take a project and you release it, you are putting it before this world.
The March 2018 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – with My Bloody Valentine and Rock’s 50 Most Extreme Albums on the cover. Elsewhere in the issue, there are new interviews with Joan Baez, Stick In The Wheel, Gary Numan, Jethro Tull and many more and we also look back on the rise of progressive country in 70s’ Austin, Texas. Our free 15 track-CD features 15 classic tracks from the edge of sound, including My Bloody Valentine, Cabaret Voltaire, Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, Flying Saucer Attack and Mogwai.
Uncut: the past, present and future of great music.